AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Byline: ERIC ERNST email@example.com
A hungry insect is loose in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.
Normally, that news wouldn't raise a biological eyebrow. Millions of insects inhabit the strand's 84,000 acres of sloughs and wetlands abutting the Big Cypress Swamp in Collier County.
But this insect is different. Scientists fear it could wipe out as many as 26 species of plants and animals, disrupt the ecosystem and forever change the natural face of South Florida, perhaps hurting tourism along the way.
The culprit is a weevil, Metamasius callizona, also called the Mexican weevil or the "evil weevil." Scientists believe it stowed away on a shipment of plants from Mexico, then got loose in 1989 from a nursery in Fort Lauderdale.
This particular weevil eats only bromeliads, the epiphytes, or air plants, that grow in trees. And how it eats them.
Unfettered by any predators that hold it in check in its native land, the alien weevil has been chewing, reproducing and moving up both coasts, decimating populations of the cardinal air plant, the giant air plant and the twisted air plant, all now classified as endangered species in Florida.
In September 2000, the weevil was discovered in the 37,000-acre Myakka River State Park east of Sarasota. The insect moved quickly. After four months, park naturalist Paula Benshoff …